Gil Ayala's 1955 Ford
- 1 Gil's Auto Body Works
- 2 The Wild Bird
- 3 Ralphy Morales' High School Graduation
- 4 Motorama Debut
- 5 Easter Egg
- 6 Pinstriped by Walt Leeman
- 7 Motor Life Cover Car
- 8 Redone by Gil
- 9 Rescued by Dan Cuellar
- 10 Sold to Norway
- 11 Kross Kountry Kustom Adventure
- 12 Viva Las Vegas
- 13 Europe Debut
- 14 Magazine Features
- 15 References
Gil and his brother Al were early custom pioneers, and major players when it came to establishing and setting trends in the 1940s and the 1950s. Gil opened up his own shop, Gil's Auto Body Works, in East Los Angeles in 1945. After providing Southern California with trendsetting custom cars for about a decade, he decided to build a wildly customized 1955 Ford Thunderbird for himself.
The Wild Bird
Gil gave his Thunderbird a longer look by extending the front and rear fenders. The rear fenders were extended 7 inches in order to house more exclusive 1955 Lincoln taillights. Expanded mesh-type gold fins were installed on top of the fenders to enhance the look, these did also work as radio antennas. Oldsmobile wheel cut-outs were reshaped to give the car a look of motion. The rear end of the car featured a special built tail-panel with a license plate inset that eliminated unnecessary frills. 1954 Cadillac bumper guards were fit on each end of the tail-panel. The exhaust was routed through the bumper guards. Ralphy Morales worked with Gil on the Wild Bird, and in 2016 he told Kustomrama that John Manok did the exhaust and bumper combo on the car. Al did most of the custom work on the car, while Ralphy did all the assistant work on the body. The deal between Gil and Ralphy was that Ralphy could take the custom to his High School graduation.
The entire front end on the car was reshaped with sheet metal. Wrap-around twin bumpers from a 1955 Pontiac were set into the contoured grille shell. The headlights were frenched and hooded, and the hood scoop was reshaped and fit with a gold mesh and three chromed teeth. The hood itself was louvered. Curly Hurlbert did the headlights on the car. The interior was stock, nothing fancy.
Ralphy Morales' High School Graduation
The first version of the Wild Bird was painted dark Purple Metallic, one of Gil's favorite colors. According to Pat Ganahl, who did a two part series about the Ayala Brothers for the Rodder’s Journal, “Gil’s speciality, and his love, was mixing and spraying luscious custom colors, especially candies and pearl.” The purple version was shown at the 1956 Motorama at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. Gil had the fins gold plated, and he sent Ralphy and a kid named Eddie Hernandez up at the show, right before it opened, to install them. The fins were made by Al and Ralphy.
Gil's wife said the Thunderbird looked like an Easter Egg, so Gil decided to repaint it dark red.
Pinstriped by Walt Leeman
The red version of the Wild Bird was pinstriped by Walt Leeman at a Hollywood car show. Walt was an aspiring pinstriper from East Los Angeles. He was self taught and started pinstriping in 1956. In 2015 Walt told Kustomrama that Gil gave him free hands when it came to pinstriping the car: “I was about 18 when I did the car, and I was still in high school.” Walter picked up the trade after reading Von Dutch articles in various magazines. He began pinstriping out of House of Chrome, a chrome accessory company that was located at the Ayalas property, right next to the shop; “I was already striping out of the House of Chrome after school and on weekends. I had met Earl Bruce, who owned a bar on Sunset Blvd, and owned a 1940 Ford that Valley Custom had filled the quarter windows on and performed some other custom work on. When I was striping the Wild Bird at the show Earl brought Von Dutch over and introduced me to him. He didn’t say much, but it sure rattled me for a bit.” 
Motor Life Cover Car
After Walt had pinstriped the Thunderbird, it was featured on the cover of Motor Life May 1957. It was Ralphy that drove the car to the photo shoot, and he remembers that the male model had the wrong pants on, and they made hims change them right on the spot.
Redone by Gil
Rescued by Dan Cuellar
In the late 1990s, East Los Angeles Auto Butchers member Dan Cuellar bought the remains of the old custom. He purchased it from some guys in San Fernando Valley. Apparently, the vehicle was abandoned in an apartment building when they found it, and it was going to be junked. They bought it with the intent of dividing up the parts to sell. Dan recognized the old custom and bought it off them. He bought the car with the intent of restoring it. As Dan also had two other customs he was working on, he decided to advertise it for sale on Craigslist in August of 2011. At the time, the car was located in Orange County, California, and the asking price was $10 000 USD. It was mostly complete, but in need of a restoration. The left door, seats and some glass were missing.Later on the same year, the car was sold to the East Coast. In September of 2014 the Thunderbird came up for sale again. It was located in Ocean, New Jersey, and the asking price was $13 000. It was advertised without it's engine, transmission and interior.
Sold to Norway
Mid-September 2014 the old custom was sold to Bjørn Inge Jansson of Oslo, Norway. Bjørn Inge shipped the Thunderbird to Yaril's Custom in Hialeah, Florida, where it will be restored back to it's former glory. In the Summer of 2015 a donor car was located and purchased. The driver side door from the donor car was straightened and installed on the Wild Bird along with the fiberglass roof. The roof on the Wild Bird had no custom work on it, and as the back window frame was broken, Yaril didn't see a reason to struggle and repair it. The donor roof only had some cracks from the sun beating on it. An easy fix. The trunk was also taken off the donor car, as the original trunk on the Wild Bird had the complete back lip reconstructed by an amateur metal man. It was pitting with rust very badly. The donor trunk was shaved of its gas fill hole and its key hole, providing the same look without the rust. By October of 2015 new floor patches were welded in.
March 7, 2017 the primered body was mounted on the restored frame. A big milestone for Yaril and his crew.
Kross Kountry Kustom Adventure
Yaril completed the restoration early April 2017. Monday, April 3, Bjørn Inge flew in from Oslo, Norway to drive the car across the country. Max Lammers flew in the following day to tag along on the adventure. April 5 Bjørn Inge and Max left Hialeah, headed for Austin, Texas and the 16th annual Lonestar Round Up.
Day one Bjørn Inge had trouble with the generator, so he and Max had to sleep over in Orlando. On Thursday they had problems with the starter, so they had to disassemble and overhaul it on a parking lot. The troubles delayed them for a day, making them miss out on Friday at the Lonestar Round Up. Bjørn Inge and Max arrived at the show Saturday morning. The response on the old custom was great, and it took home an award at the show.
Viva Las Vegas
April 13-15, 2017 the Wild Bird was shown at the 20th annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. After the show Bjørn Inge drove it to San Francisco where it was shipped to Sweden.
The Europe debut for the restored Wild Bird was planned to take place June 23, 2017 at the 9th annual Coupe Devils Rod & Kustom Bonanza in Norway. Unfortunately the car was delayed due to harbor strikes in Sweden, and Bjørn Inge didn't get it out until July.
Did you enjoy this article?
Kustomrama is an online encyclopedia dedicated to traditional hot rod and custom cars. Our mission is to protect, preserve and share traditional hot rod custom car history from all over the world.
- Find out how you can become a contributor.
- Forward this article to a friend.
- Subscribe to our newsletter and receive updates on Gil Ayala's 1955 Ford and other subjects featured on Kustomrama.
Help us make this article better
If you have additional information, photos, feedback or corrections about Gil Ayala's 1955 Ford, please get in touch with Kustomrama at: email@example.com.
This Article Was Made Possible By:
SunTec Auto Glass - Auto Glass Services on Vintage and Classic Cars
Finding a replacement windshield, back or side glass can be a difficult task when restoring your vintage or custom classic car. It doesn't have to be though now with auto glass specialist companies like www.suntecautoglass.com. They can source OEM or OEM-equivalent glass for older makes/models; which will ensure a proper fit every time. Check them out for more details!
Do you want to see your company here? Click here for more info about how you can become a Kustomrama advertiser and supporter.